U18 Forward Eric Dailey Jr. Maintains Perfect Perspective in his ‘Happy Place’
Basketball can be a metaphor for life.
Sometimes your shot goes in. Sometimes it bounces off the rim. There are critical calls that go your way. Other times, you don’t get the breaks. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.
For many basketball players, it takes a lifetime to understand the highs and lows and to learn how to balance the disappointing performances and the thrilling moments.
Eric Dailey Jr. has seemingly grown to understand the ebbs and flows of basketball — and of life — at a young age.
“Life is full of ups and downs,” said the 6-foot-6, 18-year-old forward from Tampa, Florida. “On-the-court and off-the-court stuff that I’ve been through, it all helped me on the court as well. As you grow, things in life go up and down. You’ve got to stay focused through the tough times.”
“Basketball always has been the happy place,” he added. “It will always be my outlet. It’s something that made me happy as a kid. And still today, when I’m on the court, I’m always happy.”
Dailey has plenty of reasons to be happy on the court these days. He was named to the final 12-man roster for the FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Tijuana, Mexico. Team USA opened play Monday with a 116-48 win against the Dominican Republic.
“They want me to be a versatile player and a leader on the team,” Dailey said. “I’ve been in the system for a while, so I’m kind of like the veteran on the team. I’m just hoping to lead us to a gold medal.”
Dailey’s perspective on the highs and lows of basketball — and life — came mostly from his father, Eric Dailey Sr., who spent more than a decade playing professional basketball overseas.
“From my dad, I learned that the road is not gonna be easy,” Dailey said. “There are going to be trials and tribulations, ups and downs, but you’ve got to keep going no matter what. You’ve got to be ready and prepared for any situation at any time.”
From a basketball standpoint, Dailey may have learned even more from his mother, Shell Dailey, a former player at the University of Texas and a coach at the college and WNBA levels. She has spent the last 12 years coaching the girls’ team at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where Dailey currently plays for the boys’ team.
“My mom’s a coach so she taught me how coaches think and what they want players to do in certain situations. I really learned the game from her. Being around her all the time, watching her coach games, watching her draw up plays. She taught me everything.”
The U18 Americas Championship will not be Dailey’s first experience playing for USA Basketball. Last summer, he helped Team USA win gold at the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup in Hungary.
“That was fun,” Dailey said. “I had never played 3x3 before, but once I learned the rules, it became fun for me. I had great teammates, and we all gelled together and figured things out to win the gold.”
And now Dailey gets a second chance to represent the United States on a global stage.
“Playing for my country is a big deal,” Dailey said. “Not a lot of people get that opportunity in basketball. And it’s not just playing for your country. You’re playing for where you’re from — so I’m out there playing for the people of Manatee County and the people of Florida. Playing for the USA is more than just three letters. You’re representing a whole country of people.”
Dailey’s future — next season, to be precise — is up in the air at the moment. He is currently planning to play a post-graduate season at IMG Academy. He is still considering college offers and going overseas for a year isn’t out of the question, he said.
In any case, Dailey is taking things one day at a time. He knows that in every scenario, he’ll be eligible for the NBA Draft in 2023.
“I want to get to the NBA,” he said. “That’s everyone’s goal. And I want to stay in the league as long as I can. I just hope to be on winning teams, win a championship and be a great help to whatever teams I’m on.”
Although Dailey has his sights set on the NBA, he will always keep the sport of basketball — and the game of life — in the proper perspective.
“The court will be my happy place,” Dailey said. “I don’t think that’s ever going to change. As you get older, it becomes a business, but you can always have fun in between those lines.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.